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Dealing with Cyber Risk in Schools

Children learning through remote education with a laptop
“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

The former First Lady’s quote may well be the theme of 2020 and especially so when it comes to academics and education. Educators, parents, and even students are feeling the challenges of virtual classes, learning from home, and decreased classroom time and size. One aspect of our new “normal” for schools is the introduction and implementation of online education for the smallest children through post graduate university offerings. Although this new avenue of learning has created opportunities for everyone, there are certain risks and exposures that should be considered for all involved.

Cyber Liability - Exposing students' and parents' personal information

School organizations should consider the risks associated with cyber teaching and the possibilities of individuals abusing the contact with children and parents. While cyber bullying is a prominent concern for most educators, there are other factors that create as much opportunity for damage to individuals through the misuse of virtual classrooms and storage of student information.

An example of this risk would involve a hacker being able to access personal student or parent information being stored on school data bases that could mean situations involving identity theft or harassment of a student or parent. The school organization would then become legally liable for its inability to protect the private information on its systems and this could mean litigation expenses for the school and/or its leaders. A way to combat this type of risk would be in carrying Cyber Liability coverage to protect against claims of negligence against the school. Cyber Liability is a separate liability coverage option that may be purchased to provide protection specifically for risks associated with data breach and privacy issues.

Media Liability - Using copyrighted work without paying licensing fees

Another area of liability that is also important for a school group to consider in virtual instruction is the coverage for Media Liability. This liability is important to the educator because it covers unintentional acts of plagiarism, copyright issues, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Some examples of claims from this type of negligence involve sharing someone else’s copyrighted work without paying licensing fees to use it, such as songs, poems, or photos. Plagiarism also covers presenting another person’s thought or concept as your own. Defamation claims might have to do with making derogatory statements about an individual or sharing information about someone that would damage their reputation. Breach of confidentiality and privacy invasion may also be a risk if a teacher were to inadvertently share details about a student with the class that was personal. School Board members should be sure that the organization’s insurance coverage adequately protects from these types of claims by adding Media Liability to its policy or verifying that there is protection for these scenarios.

Professional Liability for Educators - Failure to properly supervise and educate students

A third type of liability that is vital to the educator in any setting including the virtual setting, is that of Professional Liability for Educators. This liability goes beyond the way information is disseminated to how an individual teacher presents and teaches in the classroom. Professional liability may include such things as claims against classroom supervision and oversight, discipline decisions and actions, and discriminatory behaviors. Examples of claims against this type of coverage would involve a claim of failure to properly supervise a field trip that results in a student injury, claims of unfair or abusive disciplinary actions, or imbalance in how grades are assessed based on discriminatory factors. This type of coverage is available for individual teachers and education professionals to purchase, but some school organizations may elect to provide coverage. This coverage can often be added to a homeowner’s policy for an individual teacher, so checking with your agent is the first step in determining if you have this coverage in place.

These are just three common areas of liability for schools and especially those who are branching out to include virtual classroom time on a regular basis. As a grandmother, I know the challenges my grandchildren are facing with the new schedules and restrictions in place for their local school district and understand that their education is dependent upon all parties being involved and invested in making the academic experience successful. If you are a teacher, board member, parent, or school leader please consider the coverage options that are available to protect our children, families, and school professionals in dealing with education as we now know it. We are here to discuss your options with you. Call us today.


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